So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport

So Good They Can’t Ignore You gives itself away starting with the title. Cal Newport suggests that in order to be successful at something you should prove that you’re really really good first. A controversial, but highly rational argument, that focuses on disproving the “Follow Your Passion” crowd while offering an alternative path where you can just be very successful and happy doing what you’re already doing (or just started doing). 

The whole book turns the premise of following our passions on its head. It reminds me of this famous Field of Dreams quote. This is exemplified by the following quote from the book.

(…) you need to be good at something before you can expect a good job.

Cal Newport goes on to tell us how to apply this thinking to our careers, regardless of them being passions or not. And that is where the simplicity of his message really shines. If you want to be great at something, make sure you put in the effort to become great at it. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? And yet we can go on for years forgetting about it, complaining that our job sucks and we really should open that sushi and ice-cream food truck we keep talking about. Maybe, just maybe, if we put in the effort to learn how to do our job well, we’ll be fulfilled at the end of the day. 

I’m not saying that this is a silver bullet. There are no silver bullets, but before throwing in the towel, think about it for a moment. Do you really hate your career or are you just in a rut?

The narratives in this book are bound by a common thread: the importance of ability. The things that make a great job great, I discovered, are rare and valuable. If you want them in your working life, you need something rare and valuable to offer in return. In other words, you need to be good at something before you can expect a good job.

TRAITS THAT DEFINE GREAT WORK Creativity: Ira Glass, for example, is pushing the boundaries of radio, and winning armfuls of awards in the process. Impact: From the Apple II to the iPhone, Steve Jobs has changed the way we live our lives in the digital age. Control: No one tells Al Merrick when to wake up or what to wear. He’s not expected in an office from nine to five. Instead, his Channel Island Surfboards factory is located a block from the Santa Barbara beach, where Merrick still regularly spends time surfing. ( Jake Burton Carpenter, founder of Burton Snowboards, for example, recalls how negotiations for the merger between the two companies happened while he and Merrick waited for waves in a surf lineup.)

THE CAREER CAPITAL THEORY OF GREAT WORK The traits that define great work are rare and valuable. Supply and demand says that if you want these traits you need rare and valuable skills to offer in return. Think of these rare and valuable skills you can offer as your career capital. The craftsman mindset, with its relentless focus on becoming “so good they can’t ignore you,” is a strategy well suited for acquiring career capital. This is why it trumps the passion mindset if your goal is to create work you love.

THREE DISQUALIFIERS FOR APPLYING THE CRAFTSMAN MINDSET The job presents few opportunities to distinguish yourself by developing relevant skills that are rare and valuable. The job focuses on something you think is useless or perhaps even actively bad for the world. The job forces you to work with people you really dislike.

If you’re not uncomfortable, then you’re probably stuck at an “acceptable level.”

It’s so tempting to just assume what you’ve done is good enough and check it off your to-do list, but it’s in honest, sometimes harsh feedback that you learn where to retrain your focus in order to continue to make progress.

The final step for applying deliberate practice to your working life is to adopt this style of diligence.

Without this patient willingness to reject shiny new pursuits, you’ll derail your efforts before you acquire the capital you need.

conventional wisdom about how people end up loving what they do. It argued that the passion hypothesis, which says that the key to loving your work is to match a job to a pre-existing passion, is bad advice. There’s little evidence that most people have pre-existing passions waiting to be discovered, and believing that there’s a magical right job lurking out there can often lead to chronic unhappiness and confusion when the reality of the working world fails to match this dream.

tackle the natural follow-up question: If “follow your passion” is bad advice, what should you do instead? It contended that the traits that define great work are rare and valuable. If you want these traits in your own life, you need rare and valuable skills to offer in return. I called these rare and valuable skills career capital, and noted that the foundation of constructing work you love is acquiring a large store of this capital.

it’s important to adopt the craftsman mindset, where you focus relentlessly on what value you’re offering the world. This stands in stark contrast to the much more common passion mindset, which has you focus only on what value the world is offering you.

deliberate practice, an approach to work where you deliberately stretch your abilities beyond where you’re comfortable and then receive ruthless feedback on your performance.

Giving people more control over what they do and how they do it increases their happiness, engagement, and sense of fulfillment.

The Second Control Trap The point at which you have acquired enough career capital to get meaningful control over your working life is exactly the point when you’ve become valuable enough to your current employer that they will try to prevent you from making the change.

The Law of Financial Viability When deciding whether to follow an appealing pursuit that will introduce more control into your work life, seek evidence of whether people are willing to pay for it. If you find this evidence, continue. If not, move on.

If life-transforming missions could be found with just a little navel-gazing and an optimistic attitude, changing the world would be commonplace. But it’s not commonplace; it’s instead quite rare. This rareness, we now understand, is because these breakthroughs require that you first get to the cutting edge, and this is hard—the type of hardness that most of us try to avoid in our working lives.

The Law of Remarkability For a mission-driven project to succeed, it should be remarkable in two different ways. First, it must compel people who encounter it to remark about it to others. Second, it must be launched in a venue that supports such remarking.

Working right trumps finding the right work. He didn’t need to have a perfect job to find occupational happiness—he needed instead a better approach to the work already available to him.

Don’t obsess over discovering your true calling. Instead, master rare and valuable skills. Once you build up the career capital that these skills generate, invest it wisely. Use it to acquire control over what you do and how you do it, and to identify and act on a life-changing mission.

 

Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield

Today I’ll briefly talk about this little book by Steven Pressfield. I had read The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles before, which is a brilliant motivator for anyone struggling to put words to paper or screen, like me. Steven Pressfield emphasizes that we are in a constant struggle to create and the only way is to push through and embrace the struggle against the resistance. 

Turning Pro follows The War of Art focusing on the move from an amateur to a professional. What distinguishes between these? What makes you dissatisfied with your life? What should you do every day in your work? How to kill the resistance? 

Pressfield offers us his answers to all of the above in this book. Read, re-read and then keep it close at hand because you’ll need it again sooner than you would expect!

The thesis of this book is that what ails you and me has nothing to do with being sick or being wrong. What ails us is that we are living our lives as amateurs. The solution, this book suggests, is that we turn pro.

Sometimes, when we’re terrified of embracing our true calling, we ‘ll pursue a shadow calling instead. That shadow career is a metaphor for our real career. Its shape is similar, its contours feel tantalizingly the same. But a shadow career entails no real risk. If we fail at a shadow career, the consequences are meaningless to us.

If you’re dissatisfied with your current life, ask yourself what your current life is a metaphor for. That metaphor will point you toward your true calling.

In the shadow life, we live in denial and we act by addiction. We pursue callings that take us nowhere and permit ourselves to be controlled by compulsions that we cannot understand (or are not aware of ) and whose outcomes serve only to keep us caged, unconscious and going nowhere. The shadow life is the life of the amateur. In the shadow life we pursue false objects and act upon inverted ambitions. The shadow life, the life of the amateur and the addict, is not benign. The longer we cleave to this life, the farther we drift from our true purpose, and the harder it becomes for us to rally the courage to get back.

The difference between an amateur and a professional is in their habits. An amateur has amateur habits. A professional has professional habits. We can never free ourselves from habits. The human being is a creature of habit. But we can replace bad habits with good ones. We can trade in the habits of the amateur and the addict for the practice of the professional and the committed artist or entrepreneur.

Both addict and artist are dealing with the same material, which is the pain of being human and the struggle against self-sabotage. But the addict/amateur and the artist/professional deal with these elements in fundamentally different ways.

Distractions. Displacement activities. When we’re living as amateurs, we’re running away from our calling—meaning our work, our destiny, the obligation to become our truest and highest selves. Addiction becomes a surrogate for our calling. We enact the addiction instead of embracing the calling. Why? Because to follow a calling requires work. It’s hard. It hurts. It demands entering the pain-zone of effort, risk, and exposure. So we take the amateur route instead.

Each day, the professional understands, he will wake up facing the same demons, the same Resistance, the same self-sabotage, the same tendencies to shadow activities and amateurism that he has always faced. The difference is that now he will not yield to those temptations. He will have mastered them, and he will continue to master them.

First, the pro mindset is a discipline that we use to overcome Resistance. To defeat the self-sabotaging habits of procrastination, self-doubt, susceptibility to distraction, perfectionism, and shallowness, we enlist the self-strengthening habits of order, regularity, discipline, and a constant striving after excellence.

It seems counterintuitive, but it’s true: in order to achieve “flow,” magic, “the zone,” we start by being common and ordinary and workmanlike. We set our palms against the stones in the garden wall and search, search, search until at last, in the instant when we’re ready to give up, our fingers fasten upon the secret door.

Two key tenets for days when Resistance is really strong:         

1. Take what you can get and stay patient. The defense may crack late in the game.         

2. Play for tomorrow. Our role on tough-nut days is to maintain our composure and keep chipping away. We’re pros. We’re not amateurs. We have patience. We can handle adversity. Tomorrow the defense will give us more, and tomorrow we’ll take it.

There’s a third tenet that underlies the first two:         

3. We’re in this for the long haul.

The amateur believes that she must have all her ducks in a row before she can launch her start-up or compose her symphony or design her iPhone app. The professional knows better.